Bottle-Feeding Baby: The How, When, and Why

Introducing a bottle to your baby sounds easy enough, right? And for the most part, it is. But as postpartum doulas, we field questions about bottle-feeding ALL.THE.TIME. Because in reality, it’s not always as easy as it seems.

So here is our handy how-to guide for bottle-feeding your baby.

HOW?

Well, obviously you are going to need a bottle. The bottle itself as not as important as the nipple (as you will see), but there are several we recommend. The Lansinoh mOmma, Dr. Brown’s, and the NUK Simply Natural are all great options.

For babies that go back and forth between breast and bottle, the Lansinoh mOmma is my personal favorite. You can read more about it here, but it’s unique nipple design makes it easy for babies to latch and avoid any confusion going back and forth from the breast. For gassy or colicky babies, Dr. Brown’s, with it’s one-of-a-kind venting system, has been the tried and true option for years. And if you’re looking to reduce plastics in your household, the NUK Simply Natural is a wonderful glass option.

But when it comes to bottle-feeding it’s more about the nipple than the bottle.

This is because it’s the nipple (and the feeding position) that really determines how fast and how much baby eats at the bottle. Always use the slowest-flow nipple when feeding your baby. For breastfed babies, a slow-flow nipple more closely simulates a feed at the breast, where babies have to actively work to trigger a let-down of milk. If milk or formula flows too fast from the bottle, babies can begin to develop a flow preference for the source that’s easiest to eat from - in this case the fast-flowing bottle. And even if baby is exclusively bottle-fed, a slow flow nipple still reduces choking and gulping and the risk of over-eating by slowing down the feed and allowing baby’s stomach time to send the signal to their brain that they are full.

Using a slow-flow nipple and the paced bottle-feeding method are always ideal when bottle-feeding baby. If you haven’t heard of paced feeding, check out this great YouTube tutorial from our friends over at Indianapolis Doulas. With paced-feeding, baby is held in a more upright position and the bottle is held horizontal to baby’s mouth. Without gravity to do the work for them, babies have to actively suck to get food out of the bottle in this position and can set their own feeding pace. It helps reduce over-feeding, rapid-feeding, and the risk of developing a preference for the bottle over the breast.

If you’re unfamiliar with paced-feeding, it might look a little strange, but trust us, it’s a game-changer when it comes to bottle-feeding.

WHEN?

The next question we often hear is: when should I introduce a bottle to my baby? Obviously, if you are an exclusive bottle-feeder, then this happens at birth. But for parents that are breastfeeding, this is a bigger question.

The most up-to-date recommendation is currently to introduce a bottle between 3 and 4 weeks of age.

This is really the sweet spot when it comes to taking a bottle. By 3-4 weeks, breastfeeding has begun to be established and most breastfeeding parents can often find time to express a bit of breastmilk for a bottle. (Pro Tip: You do not have to express a full feed to introduce a bottle. An ounce of milk is perfectly sufficient - baby can practice with the bottle and then get the rest of their feed right from the tap. Win Win!) The 3-4 week age range is also a perfect time because most babies are still flexible enough to take to the bottle with no problem. However, wait too long, like around 8-10 weeks, and some babies have developed a clear preference for the breast and refuse the bottle altogether. So don’t put it off.

Further, once you do introduce the bottle you have to remain consistent with offering it. As Infant Feeding Specialists, we get calls from panicked parents all the time because their baby refuses to take a bottle and they are returning to work in a week. We hear how the baby took a bottle just fine at 3 or 4 weeks but now refuses. This is because the bottle was not offered frequently enough - every other day or even every day - after it’s initial introduction. For some babies, taking a bottle is a skill that they have to work on again and again, otherwise they forget how.

WHY?

Maybe you are returning to work and will need your baby to take a bottle during the day. Or maybe you would like to be able to run errands, go on dates, or even leave town without your baby. Maybe you would like your partner or older children to bond with baby over feedings.

All of these are wonderful reasons to introduce a bottle to your baby.

And we are sure there are plenty more good reasons. As doulas, we actually don’t care why you want to introduce a bottle to your baby. We’re here to support your feeding choices no matter what they are. We care more about the fact that your family is happy and healthy and you have the support to make the choices that are best for you.

So, if you have questions about bottle-feeding or need help introducing a bottle to your baby, call us. That’s what we’re here for!